When Sir Alexander Dunbar of Boath stepped on to the first tee here in May 1899, just as Queen Victoria was celebrating her eightieth birthday, he declared open another golfing gem on the coastline of the Moray Firth, adding Nairn Dunbar Golf Club to Royal Dornoch and Nairn as "must play" clubs in the region. Sir Alexander donated both his name and sixty acres of whins and gorse for the admirable pursuit of a game in an area that enjoys a surprisingly mild climate for such a northerly latitude.
A challenging par four opens the par 72 course, followed by a shortish par four, then a straightforward par three, allowing a relatively gentle warm up. Be prepared though for a strong quartet of long, demanding par fours which are then encountered, where gorse, trees, greenside bunkers and out of bounds all present problems. This tough sequence of holes is then topped off by the semi-blind par three "Brodie," the 163-yard signature hole, with its green nestled in a bowl, surrounded by bunkers.
Three newer holes are located around the turn, at the furthest point from the clubhouse, before the routing moves inland, culminating in a muscular three-hole stretch that maintains the challenging nature of Nairn Dunbar right to the end. With two par fives in this closing section at holes 16 and 18, you might think there's the chance of perhaps even securing a birdie - think again, as the benign stroke index for these holes is very misleading, especially at the last, which requires a blind approach shot to the severely raised home green.
Richard Johnstone, Nairn Dunbar Course Manager, kindly supplied us with the following quote in October 2016:
Over the last few years, we have made great strides towards promoting links golf here at Nairn Dunbar Golf Links. Continued tree and gorse removal will only allow the natural grasses to flourish. There has been a big attempt to firm the surfaces up: sand topdressing regularly, hollow coring approaches and sanding to promote firm entrances to greens, allowing players to use the bump and run shot.
Regular over seeding to greens with bent and fescue seed has seen us move from Poa-dominated greens to around 70% bent grass 10%Fescue. Fairway cutting height has been taken down from 12 mm to 10 mm which has made a big difference, allowing golfers to putt from well off the green, which was not possible before.
A rough management plan is in place where we will cut back all our rough areas twice a year, scarifying, spraying and picking up the clippings so that we can reduce the amount of rougher grasses and promote the finer links-like grasses to enable us to line our fairways with golden, wispy rough.
We played yesterday on a sunny and breezy day. The still damp in places fairways were just open and the greens had been tined and sanded, but despite this the course played well, and the pins were in very difficult spots probably to protect the main surfaces leading to a very fun game of golf. Typical slow start, then a super run out through to the far corner where I enjoyed the new holes. Tough finish on the last, an oblique raised level must be one of the hardest targets to hit, with characteristic green contours and run offs. I was strongly reminded of Glasgow Gailes and Irving, both honest, enjoyable clubs without the seaside views of near neighbours but providing a really solid game of links golf in better value, more welcoming surroundings.
Nairn Dunbar may live in the shadow of its Walker Cup hosting neighbour located on the west side of town but please don’t dismiss this enjoyable course from your Highlands golfing itinerary.
Here you will find a 6,765-yard championship length layout that features a number of demanding two-shotters, a fine quartet of short holes and a strong collection of par fives including the excellent finisher.
Unsurprisingly The Club has hosted many national competitions over the years and will co-host the British Boys Amateur Championship in 2017.
Nairn Dunbar, named Golf Yearbook's Scottish Club of the Year 2015, attracts visitors from far and wide who head to the popular golf destination of The Highlands. Perhaps one of the best ways to play this excellent value-for-money venue is to buy a Moray Golf Pass or look at a Highland Golf Escapes ticket as these offer exceptional prices and include a number of courses. Another excellent way to play here is to enter one of its many annual open competitions. However you book your tee-time though you will get extremely good bang for your buck.
With regards to the course itself the opening eight holes at Nairn Dunbar are of a particularly high standard and serve up all the thrills and spills associated with true links golf; natural movement in the land, deep pot bunkers and some excellent green complexes housing plenty of undulations.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
I made my third visit to Nairn Dunbar last week and have to say I was really impressed with the condition of the course. I know that a concerted effort has been made to emphasize the links credentials of the layout recently and so half a dozen tees have been rebuilt and intrusive areas of gorse removed at almost half the holes. Further work has also been carried out to thin out trees between the 9th and 14th holes.
New greenside bunkers have been installed (or older ones replaced) on seven of the front nine holes, whilst new fairway bunkers have been added to five holes on the back nine. Every one of these new or renovated pot bunkers has been constructed to the highest standard possible, with properly revetted faces that you’d expect to find on the best championship courses.
Having just visited a large number of courses in the north east region in the previous few days and found that all of them had recently hollow tined their greens, I wondered why Nairn Dunbar had not done the same. “We did ours over three days in August,” Course Manager Richard Johnstone told me. You would honestly never believe a major maintenance task like that had been carried out, such was the late season growth that Richard had managed to achieve in the weeks since then.
It’s not all about conditioning, of course, even if the greens – which are in the process of bent grass overseeding to enhance their links quality – were absolutely fabulous. Architecturally, the use of natural ridges to hide or elevate a green (the former at the 2nd and the latter at the 7th) were features I’d not paid enough attention to in earlier visits, as was the wonderful lateral spine running through the 4th green and the lovely two-tiered putting surface at the long 13th.
I’m still not a big fan of the newer holes around the turn and some links purists might frown over the legacy tree plantations in the middle of the back nine – then again, there’s more than a touch of Panmure or Monifieth with these arboreal interventions which have never unduly hindered the ranking position of those particular courses and I wouldn’t get too hung up about them.
Nairn Dunbar rose thirteen places in the Scottish Top 100 chart last time around so efforts to improve course playability were obviously appreciated at that time and I’ve now seen enough to make me believe that trend might well continue when the listings are next overhauled. It’s great to see a really decent track located next to a world famous course rise to the challenge and the ongoing efforts of the club to improve the course certainly deserves recognition.
A great and accessible course in the Nairn area with hole 8 being an excellent par 3. Firm greens with great bunkers and friendly atmosphere makes Nairn Dunbar a very nice and enjoyable course.
Don’t be fooled by the appearance from the first tee. The first few holes look fairly easy but things get decidedly tougher from the 448-yard par four 4th. This is the start of a stretch of four hard holes culminating with the 7th, ‘King Steps’, where thick rough, heather and gorse lie in waiting.
When I played Nairn Dunbar I noted the 11th, “a short par three, was the only real weakness”. I am pleased to see that the club has subsequently redesigned both the 10th and 11th holes. The remaining holes are on flatter terrain with traditional links fairways.
The last few holes are a good finish with a ditch in play on 16 and 17. Although it is a short par five of 499 yards, the 18th is made more difficult by a semi-blind approach from lower ground to a green hidden behind a high mound.
This review is an edited extract from Another Journey through the Links, which has been reproduced with David Worley’s kind permission. The author has exclusively rated for us every Scottish course featured in his book. Another Journey through the Links is available for Australian buyers via www.golfbooks.com.au and through Amazon for buyers from other countries.